Archive for May, 2013

Other Ten Percent 5/31/13

May 31 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

So I got a lot accomplished today but that meant that when I got home I had neither the time nor the energy to deal with the fact that iMovie is kind of awful at letting you record your own audio for stuff you’re making in iMovie. I’m going to devote most of tomorrow to creating a video for OTP next Monday but since we’re at the end of the month and it’s been quite a while since I gave you guys any links I thought I’d pass along everything I found interesting from my RSS reader with minimal commentary. Continue Reading »

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Other Ten Percent 5/29/13

May 29 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

So you may quickly notice this post doesn’t look a lot like a video. That’s because it isn’t one. I was going to dedicate a few hours to it today but then I suddenly got a fast turn around assignment to write up the new season of Arrested Development which I’d been discussing with Nikki all morning. The article is about 1100 words but it won’t be up till Friday so here’s the short version: The new season judged as a collection of individual episodes has a number of issues but it’s really one big 8 hour episode that, when judged on its own terms is a pretty remarkable achievement that also happens to be hilarious.

The thing is, I seem to be the only person who feels that way. Fienberg, VanDerWerff and a lot more people all seem to be agreed that the season is basically flawed and they all even seem to agree that the reason of that is season 4’s totally bizarre structure, following an individual Bluth for a full episode instead of jumping back and forth.

So, against my better judgement, and almost certainly everybody else’s desires, it’s time for Puzzlebox Comedies Ep. III: Revenge of the Making Shit Up as I Go Along. Because what I figured out as soon as Arrested Development slotted into place as the third example is that I’m not just arguing that Puzzlebox Comedies exist I’m arguing for them as a protected species because every critic seems to naturally HATE any sign of structural fuckery in sitcoms.

Somehow, a show which became a cult hit entirely because of its love of making structural games out of its jokes and creating callbacks so elaborate they don’t reveal themselves until the 4th or 5th time you watch the show, is now done in by abandoning its secret “emotional core” for structural games. Just like How I Met Your Mother used to be better when it was about the characters instead of the elaborate structural tricks, presumably meaning the first nine episodes of the show. (In fact, after claiming that all this structural nonsense is distracting from the real heart of what Arrested Development used to be Todd VanDerWerff directly compares it to How I Met Your Mother.)

Community may seem like an odd fit for this list since it’s so critically beloved but, especially when it was most attached to its meta-textual parody episodes, critical consensus seemed to always be on the verge of declaring it too clever for its own good and even critics who liked it, like Todd VanDerWerff felt a constant need to defend the show as really being about the character relationships even in elaborate parody episodes about clip shows that mock the show for repeating the same character beats over and over.

What I can’t quite figure out, still, is how exactly to combat this bias because I can’t really figure out where it comes from. The simplest explanation is that it comes from a desire to prove that Sitcoms are worthy of serious consideration as “art” which basically always means “look how much realism we’ve secretly got over here.” Science Fiction isn’t about wacky robots it’s about the human condition and our relationship with technology so take us seriously. Comic books aren’t about guys in funny underwear punching each other they’re about power and how it’s exercised. And sitcoms aren’t about clever callback jokes to 20 episodes ago they’re about human connections and how funny (and…tragic?) those connections are.

Which is true in so far as they CAN all be about those things, but also boring as fuck because it’s basically arguing that there’s only one kind of art that actually matters and if you’re going to try and be good art you’d damn well better act exactly like that or at least genuflect when you don’t.

Arrested Development does something truly new with its new season, the best structural analog I can make to its approach to storytelling is probably Infinite Jest. I swear I tried desperately to come up with a less pretentious comparison but the best I could do was Rashomon and that is both not as accurate and not significantly less pretentious. Like Infinite Jest the narrative begins with a flash forward and then jumps back to follow a whole host of characters in a slow lead up to that event and, like Infinite Jest the new season of Arrested Development ends [Aaaaaand spoiler warning for a book now old enough to be considering which tennis scholarship it should accept] unfinished with a bunch of loose ends that point toward a resolution that doesn’t reveal itself and a final moment that’s more a character moment than a traditional finale.

Also like Infinite Jest that seems to have pissed a lot of reviewers off.

[It’s now safe to read again if you were avoiding the spoilers or the pretentiousness]

What’s most odd about the critical reaction is that reviewers seem to simultaneously acknowledge how truly original Arrested Developments format is, how groundbreaking it’s likely to be and how much it creates a new formula for comedy online, while also knocking it for not acting enough like traditional sitcoms. To be sure the new structure comes with problems but those problems seem to be dwarfed in reviews by the “problem” of not acting like a prestige sitcom is supposed to act. The story isn’t shaped like a traditional sitcom story and nobody seems to be making an effort to even ask why not before decrying it as a structural failure for not resolving the way they expected it to.

It’s possible, more than possible really, that I’m giving too much credit here and the new season’s dangling threads are nothing more than a messy, irritating attempt to beg for another season or a feature film, which is how most critics seem to be interpreting them. But it doesn’t feel like it. For a story that’s supposed to be a huge mess it feels oddly complete, leaving as a suggestion plot lines you don’t really need to see. Part of me hopes that when/if the show does continue (okay, let’s be honest, when) it doesn’t pick up where it leaves off here but jumps forward in time again essentially repeating this structure and leaving large parts of the Bluth family history somewhat ambiguous. Partially that’s because it feels like it would be the most satisfying way to honor the story they’ve created here, and partially that’s because reviewers would HATE IT and the comedy part of my brain just wants to watch the world burn.

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Other Ten Percent 5/27/13

May 27 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

So, yeah, I was planning to do non-Daft Punk related thing for today but I got kinda lazy since the party ended at like 3 AM so one more day with the last of these videos. Then for Wednesday I’m actually going to do a non-music video.

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Other Ten Percent 5/24/13

May 24 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

So I like today’s date because it uses all five of the first five digits but doesn’t use any of them sequentially. Maybe let’s have a holiday for that instead of a terrible Star Wars pun? Great, I’m sure that’ll go super well since I gave everybody so much lead time. Anyway making videos for Jane’s party has turned into a full on obsession where I’ve GOT TO have visual accompaniment for the whole album.

Today I made a video for Beyond using clips from the Indiana Jones movies. A video for album opener Give Life Back to Music using Daft Punk clips to get people into party mode. A video for the nine minute track Giorgio using biographical footage of Giorgio Moroder and a two minute loop of disco video I didn’t realize I was looping because it came from an 8 minute video that didn’t tell me it was looping it but screw it it works. A video for Get Lucky using the first four Michael Jackson videos to confirm it’s a lost Michael Jackson song. A video for Fragments of Time That’s just four 80s title sequences back to back that, depressingly, works better than any of the videos I spent hours editing. And a video for balls crazy closing track Contact using footage of NASA’s moon missions along with every single stargate/wormhole/Warp-Drive/Time Vortex clip I could find on youtube.

Along with the two videos I already made and two videos other people have helpfully provided for Lose Yourself to Dance and Game of Love that means I just need to figure out what I’m doing with Within, Motherboard, and Touch. I thought I was on to something with making a video for Touch using clips from Phantom of the Paradise since they both feature Paul Williams vocals and wild tonal shifts but it turns out that’s some Lovecrafian level nightmare fuel and should not be attempted by mortals lest ye be driven mad. I’m taking a break from video making tomorrow to finish my spec script for May and let ideas percolate for the last three videos but I’m now DETERMINED to have all the videos I need before the party Saturday night.

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Other Ten Percent 5/22/13

May 22 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

I made another Daft Punk video. This one has robots. I know these are really thoroughly off model for the blog and they’re mostly editing warm-ups to get me in a groove where I can do video projects that look a bit more like a traditional OTP post but they’re also about the maximum amount of work I can put in for Other Ten Percent in the middle of a busy week so expect another one or two of these to be your Friday post as well before I return next monday with more of a video essay thing to see if that works any better.

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Other Ten Percent 5/20/13

May 20 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

So my good friend Jane St. John is holding a party this weekend based off of the new Daft Punk album that’s pretty fantastic. The problem is however that because of Daft Punk’s incredibly canny marketing scheme there’s actually very little visual material to have playing on a monitor while the party is going on. Jane and I kicked around a few ideas for things earlier in the week but while I was re-listening to the album this morning I was struck by a really good idea for what to do with Instant Crush. Here is a music video for it featuring footage from a bunch of racing videogames.

Later this week I’ll add links to the multiple very cool youtube channels that post replays of old games that I used to find the footage for this (If anybody ends up watching this I’ll probably replace it all with footage I take myself as well so as to feel like less of a jerk) but for now I’ve been working on this for a few hours straight and I’m actually pretty tired. Depending on the reaction this gets I’ll either do a similar thing for Wednesday or I’ll do something totally different.

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Other Ten Percent 5/17/13

May 17 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

So yeah once again I’m not really coming up with a whole lot of content to talk about that wasn’t covered by one of my earlier meta-textual rants. I feel like I’m the long, rambling monologue equivalent of a Stand-Up that’s grabbed all the low hanging fruit and now has to either really dig down deep in order to find some fresh material buried somewhere inside or just like…become Dane Cook. So instead I’m going to quit.

Wait, no, that probably makes it sound like I’m quitting.

I’m actually just quitting trying to force this one specific issue See I like the long 1500 word posts because it lets OTP become an experimental dumping ground for me to try out some things I’d like to be doing but have no real impetus to do in another area of my life since nobody’s paying me to expound on what’s wrong with the critical reactions to a movie I haven’t actually seen yet.

(Side note: I have seen it now and I actually feel kinda bad for critics since I walked out aware the movie didn’t work but totally unable to articulate exactly why. Blaming a random actor or Luhrman not being as good at English Lit at me would have been tempting if I was on a 12 hour deadline to rate the whole damn thing. Huh…maybe I should write 1500 words on how I wish critics could just say “damned if I know” more often.)

Just like the coding/site design experiments I was doing last summer though once I figured out what I generally wanted to do with that class of object OTP stopped being the best place to keep making it and I fizzled out. I can already kinda feel that happening here as well where the urge to just find a new thing to that lets me talk about the unexamined meta-conversation going on every other day is starting to have diminishing returns. Instead of trying to dig out as much content as I can in the same vein I’m going to just have OTP go even weirder.

Off format experiments seemed to work fairly well so let’s see how off format we can get here. Prepare for me to screw around with video on here. Prepare for me to bring back a the coding experiments when I think they’re going to work. Prepare for me to send ACTUAL PICTURES in this e-mail like it’s the year 1998 or something. I’m not going to ask everybody to let me know what’s really working for them since I know people like to catch up all at once some times and sometimes they skip days but if this starts annoying you so much you’re thinking of unsubscribing please let me know that first so I can change things up.

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Other Ten Percent 5/16/13

May 16 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

So I don’t have a lot to say besides that I really like the new Vampire Weekend album. Turns out they only needed to turn down the world music reappropriation bullshit like 20% before I found Ezra Koenig a charming, clever lyricist. Somehow I don’t think going on about that for 1500 words is really going to interest you guys. That’s okay though because I’m sort of realizing me not having 1500 words in me two days a week is probably to be expected when I’m spending those days locked in an office trying to write fiction. I could abandon that plan or half ass it on Tuesday and Thursday every week but instead I think I’m going to scale back slightly and just have big old posts on a M/W/F schedule. Way way back in the dark ages when I was still entering peoples e-mail addresses into gMail for this like some sort of monkey that was the schedule. Then I found I needed the warmup 5 days a week so maybe it’ll drift back to that but for now OTP seems more like an exercise in organizing a bunch of disperate things that have been flying across my desk and my writing warm-ups have shifted to other things, things that actually pay me money on occasion. So what I’m saying is that you’re getting a short entry today but don’t worry because there’ll be a lot on Friday again and then we’ll hopefully settle into a nice groove next week.

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Other Ten Percent 5/15/13

May 15 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

Guys I’m super sorry again about yesterday’s post. I’ve been receiving my usual amount of feedback and all of it was negative today…in that nobody said a word about it to me and I really didn’t like that half-hearted post. Once again I regret writing it when I did because it turns out what I actually wanted to talk about with How I Met Your Mother is much better illustrated discussing what the show’s probably going to do with its 9th and final season than it is describing it as a class of sitcom with Community and then doing absolutely nothing to establish what that classification means and then getting bored and quitting halfway in…I’m really sorry about yesterday’s post.

Anyway, let’s dig deep into the aftermath of the season finale of How I Met Your Mother because everybody is super angry about it in a way that makes perfect sense if you think of the show as a hangout show and seems absolutely insane to me because that isn’t how I view the show at all. Needless to say if you really want to go into the 8th season finale of How I Met Your Mother “pure” then I’m about to spoil the shit out of it and you probably should just go watch it now because it’s just 22 minutes and it’s pretty good.

The big thing that changes the formulation of the entire show is that we’ve finally seen the mother in the last few moments of the finale after 184 episodes of delaying that reveal. From what I’ve heard she’s going to be a big part of the last season since they tested her chemistry with all the other characters before they cast her which pretty much rules out her just popping up here and in the series finale. This news thrilled everybody who felt the show’s been running in circles for seasons on end. But, while everybody was pretty thrilled on Monday evening on Tuesday morning CBS sent out a press release that explained the plan for season 9 and everybody pretty much went insane in the other direction.

See, the season finale established that the “now” of the show’s universe was 56 hours out from the big wedding of Barney and Robin where Ted, after the ceremony while waiting for a train, will finally meet the mother. Apparently the backbone of season 9 will spend 24 episodes exploring those 56 hours. They’re going to stretch the 56 remaining hours before Ted meets the mother (we get a glimpse of her as the audience but Ted still doesn’t) and make that the entire season.

There was a time it would have driven me insane as well. I was a huge advocate of just introducing the mother already around season 5 or 6 because I thought a new character dynamic would do a lot to liven up some of the characters that had grown kinda stale. From the perspective of a hangout show this is basically the worst idea in the world. For any other sitcom it’d be an unquestionable disaster. You’re stranding all your characters in a situation that isolates them away from the familiar situations that the audience likes seeing them in and plotting-wise. You’re basically cornering them into a soap-opera dynamic where everybody has to have an absurd number of emotional revelations in the space of two and a half days.

Even worse from the perspective of some critics, instead of doing the proven formula of the last season victory lap that provides a nice coda for all the major characters, instead of directly exploring what makes this new character so important to Ted that he’d stop the eternal love triangle two-step with him, Barney and Robin the show’s been doing for half a decade at this point it’s going to spend the last season on more temporal shenanigans and structural fuckery.

The problem is that this entire show IS structural fuckery. The entire premise of the show is that all the action we’re watching is a flashback from the year 2030. This has let the show pull off bits with regularity that even relatively daring and experimental comedies would leave alone outside of an odd “off-formula” episode or two. Seinfeld pulled off one episode where the narrative progressed backward in time, How I Met Your Mother does this practically every week for at least part of the story. Most sitcoms experiment with an unreliable narrator on occasion or produce the customary Rashomon episode but I can’t think of another show that regularly lets its characters take over as narrator and break the reality of the story randomly within an episode.

See, what makes How I Met Your Mother a puzzlebox sitcom (and what made Community one back in the heights of its Dan Harmon fueled seasons) isn’t that it’s capable of doing bizarre punchline->setup constructions or could have a scene derailed by an unreliable narrator it’s that those tricks are actually how these shows communicate with the audience. How I Met Your Mother’s relationship with time (just like Community’s relationship with genre) actually ends up being the fundamental storytelling tool for Ted’s growth . Without doing all that jumping around in time to give a sense of perspective on his actions the show is just the story of an awful guy who makes tons of terrible relationship decisions refusing to get over a girl who’s repeatedly told him she can’t commit to their relationship. It’s not surprising that’s many people’s opinion of the later seasons verbatim because if you’re reading recaps of the show as a linear narrative THAT IS FACTUALLY THE STORY BEING TOLD.

So, here’s the thing that I find so bizarre about these complaints: the season everybody seems to want, the season where we learn all about the mother and watch Ted grow into a good husband and say goodbye to everybody and basically have a Mary Tyler Moore finale, this is how you get that on this show.

Everybody seems to assume that a show obsessed with jumping forward and backward in time is suddenly going to turn into 24 as overwrought comedy, slowly marching directly forward toward the inevitable ending at a snail’s pace, which is insane. In fact, by announcing the entire last season takes place at the wedding I think HIMYM has pretty much announced that the Mary Tyler Moore ending is EXACTLY what they’re going for and that wedding is our goodbye to these characters. If you assume that the show has already told you its ending (it has, we’re ending with the moment Ted meets the mother) this is the structural fuckery equivalent of basically promising you the entire final season is going to be a long series of goodbyes disguised as hellos before they even get started. Of course, the only way that’s going to work out satisfyingly for fans is with a whole ton of jumping around in time and it’s going to play out pretty much like this:

Ted in the future, already prone to digressions from the main narrative, goes full Tristram Shandy as he approaches what he considers to be the single most important moment of his life and realizes the story’s almost over (and he hasn’t even told the kids about ______!) we start jumping all around forward and backward in time closing off odd narrative digressions from earlier in the show (okay so it’s not FULL Tristram Shandy since there’s going to be some closure) and seeing how our favorite characters turn out in the future by reading the signs of all those future and past events from the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding. The core plots of the season will all take place during two days but those two days are going to spin out into Barney and Robin’s married life, Marshal’s professional life and the future of his marriage with Lily and of course Ted’s relationship with the mother after the wedding ends even as the season itself slowly tells the events of the actual wedding proper.

Will they be able to pull that off? I have absolutely no clue. That’s a pretty ambitious final season structurally even for a show that managed to pull off using the first half of a running joke as a season ending cliffhanger. It’s easily possible that they simply don’t have enough ideas for the two days until the wedding and every moment spent NOT jumping forward or backward through time is a horrible slog of melodrama that moves forward by just a few paces. They could also screw stuff up on a smaller scale by botching a character arc in the last season or something.

It is however the only final season that lets the show even attempt to do what the audience wants though while still remaining recognizably How I Met Your Mother. I understand the desire for the show to dispense with meeting the damn mom and then spend the back half of the season with Ted blissfully happy with his new destined wife but that’s How I Met Your Mother fan-fiction not a final season of television for a show that’s always been more about the telling of the story than the story itself.

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Other Ten Percent 5/14/13

May 14 2013 Published by under Daily Posts

Man I…kinda wish I’d waited to do the Daft Punk thing AFTER they started streaming the whole damn thing but I guess that’s really just an excuse for me to try and do something else…again drunk, at 11:10 at night…guys I’ve made some bad decisions. I guess since I spent most of the evening watching How I Met Your Mother now’s the best time I can come up with to discuss the concept of puzzle box comedies.

I’ve been holding off because I’ve desperately wanted a really strictly accurate third example for this concept but I…don’t really have time to do that at this point so we’re doing this with just the two major examples. The idea behind puzzle box comedies is that you’re already structurally familiar with the sitcom and so what makes the comedy funny is the dialogue it’s having with the traditional sitcom.

How I Met Your Mother and Community are the two examples that really exemplify the form. What makes both shows work is that both of them see like they are hangout shows in the vein of Friends or late-season Cheers but when they try and be a hangout show in that vein they fall flat on their face which is maybe best exemplified by season 4 of both shows. I’m not sure why these aren’t hangout shows but I am sure what they are instead.

The fact that Suzan gets an awesome new job and the new Daft Punk album and gets to actually meet the mother with the season finale all at the same time should qualify today as a pretty amazingly awesome day.

…okay it’s now 11:40 and I’m nowhere near done with this so I guess I have to really boil this down to the bare essentials which is that these shows are built around playing with the form in a way that’s worth watching even when I find the character dynamics (and Jeff Winger and Barney Stinson have some similar problematic things as breakout characters) what keeps me coming back to bother shows even when they’re in a slump is that they love to screw around with the kind of Sitcom story to…guys this entry is a failure and I’m super sorry. I promise I’m going to extend this one out to be an actual entry tomorrowy…maybe I’ll throw in what I meant by temporal empathy just to be generous.

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